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Forbes The CIO’s First 100 Days Series: Jason Molfetas

Amtrak’s CIO Changes The IT Culture In First 100 Days

by Peter High, published on Forbes.com

03-31-2014

In 2012, Jason Molfetas joined the Amtrak family as the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Prior to joining Amtrak, Mr. Molfetas had no direct experience in this particular industry, but he was very much familiar with the complexities of running IT in a diverse business environment.  Mr. Molfetas’ was able to quickly get up to speed by reviewing the company’s corporate strategy, studying the Amtrak organization charts, reviewing information about his staff and more importantly, meeting with key business leader to learn the Amtrak business practices. In his first 100 days, he did as much listening as he did talking; recognizing that the path to a new strategy would come through insights garnered from his colleagues both within and outside of IT as well as from vendor partners and Amtrak customers. He has made transparent communications the hallmark of his leadership, and has since changed the IT culture to one that is more empowered, accountable, and transparent, while also ensuring that it is closely aligned to the needs of Amtrak customers.

(This is the 12th article in the “CIO’s First 100 Days” series. To read the prior 11, including interviews with the CIOs of Intel, Caterpillar, Time Warner, Johnson & Johnson, and J. Crew, please click this link. To receive notifications regarding future articles in the series, including interviews with the CIOs of AmerisourceBergen and Viacom, please click the “Follow” link above.)

Peter High: Jason, you joined Amtrak as its CIO in June of last year.  You came to Amtrak with logistics experience but without transportation industry experience.  How did you prepare for the job prior to joining?

Jason Molfetas: This is the ninth company that I have worked for, so I have had a number of new beginnings in new industries. As a result, I am pretty comfortable with change. The key to a successful transition is recognizing that you are only one part of the overall business and the culture of the company that you are joining. It is important to respect the organization you are joining, the individuals who are now your co-workers and to learn about them and determine how you will fit in with them.  To be a successful CIO, you have to be a change agent. You can only attempt to drive change if you have a strong understanding of the company, the culture, the dynamics, and how and when to push for change.

My focus prior to joining was to learn as much as I could about all of the components of the business, its history, and what prior changes were successful or were not successful.  It was also important to understand the external factors such as customer viewpoints, market conditions, competitors, the governing board, and other critical stakeholders that shape the company’s forward direction.  A tremendous amount of this information is available either directly from the company or from external sources such as annual reports.

You are correct that I had not worked in the rail business before, but I had been a customer of Amtrak, and the interview process was a great opportunity to learn more about those plans, and to begin to understand the company and the culture from within. I very much admired what I found and accepted the position.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • What were the artifacts that you sought in the early stages?
  • Were there any special events that you planned on day one of your time at Amtrak?
  • How did you spend your first 30 days?
  • What was the substance of that first plan that you made?
  • How have you maintained momentum as the months have passed?

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